Copyright ©2014 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This election year, both Republicans and Democrats are working especially hard to win over women, who make up 53 percent of the American electorate. In the finale to our week-long series She Votes, NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson examines how political ads are changing to appeal to women.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: It's only May, but it looks and sounds like October. Over $80 million has already been spent on political advertising in only about a dozen Senate battleground states. About half of that amount has been targeted at women. Take a listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: It comes down to respect for women and our lives. So Congressman Cory Gardner's history promoting harsh antiabortion laws is disturbing.

TERRI LYNN LAND: Congressman Gary Peters and his buddies want you to believe I'm waging a war on women. Really? Think about that for a moment.

LIASSON: That's the most obvious approach - Republicans putting their female candidates front and center, Democrats attacking Republicans for waging a quote "war on women." But there's more to it than that, says Republican ad maker Ashley O'Connor.

ASHLEY O'CONNOR: Women process information differently than men. And so much of political advertising focuses on conflict and facts and figures and I think that we're already starting to see, when reaching women voters, there's just new techniques that need to be used and a different tone and more storytelling and different messages.

LIASSON: O'Connor singles out an ad aired by Monica Wehby, a pediatric neurosurgeon who's seeking the Republican nomination for Senate in Oregon.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Dr. Wehby was going to open her back and reconstruct my daughter's entire lower spine. She just hugged me and kissed my forehead, and she said it's going to be OK, sweetheart. I've got her, and I'm going to see you in a couple hours.

O'CONNOR: It's a 60 second ad, and it is not particularly issue driven. It's a testimonial of a parent of one of the children she had saved. And it sort of goes to this point that when talking to women I don't think you necessarily have to be delivering factual information to move them. I think connecting with her heart and really try to build emotion is more effective.

LIASSON: That may sound a little sexist, but appealing to emotions is what all effective advertising does. And the fact that Republicans are trying to do that is the biggest new development in political ads aimed at women. Here's a typical Republican Super PAC ad from 2012.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Family incomes down, 40 percent living paycheck to paycheck and Obamacare's new tax on middle class families.

LIASSON: This year, the GOP has ditched the baritone narrator and the scary music. Instead, they're doing what Democrats have been doing for many years - using softer voices and more personal stories. Here's a Republican Super PAC ad running this year.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: People don't like political ads. I don't like them either. But healthcare isn't about politics, it's about people. It's not about a website that doesn't work. It's not about poll numbers or approval ratings. It's about people, and millions of people have lost their health insurance. Millions of people can't see their own doctors, and millions are paying more and getting less. Obamacare doesn't work. It just doesn't work.

LIASSON: Elizabeth Wilner is with Kantar Media's campaign media analysis group.

ELIZABETH WILNER: It's a very clean ad. The tone of the ad - her tone - is very sympathetic and very easy on the ears. It's a new kind of attack. And it is not a harsh ad in any way, but the message itself is very tough.

LIASSON: There are other trends this year that both parties hope will appeal to women. Family members are everywhere, especially moms and daughters.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD)

CURT CLAWSON: I'm Curt Clawson.

CHERIE CLAWSON: I'm Curt's mom.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #4: My husband, Paige, is running for Congress. The campaigns have become so nasty.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #5: And while we love having Mark at home, we know we share him with every Alaskan.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #6: And it's why Monica Vernon is running for Congress because she'll never stop working for the middle class. We know because she's our mom.

LIASSON: And it's not just the content of the ads that are changing, it's where the ads appear.

JIM MARGOLIS: We are using data and analytics to try to determine what are the actual programs that women are watching. And to try to determine, as well, what are those issues for that particular group that are going to be the most resonant, that they're going to find the most compelling?

LIASSON: That's Jim Margolis, a veteran Democratic ad maker. He says it's no longer enough to air an ad on daytime TV or even the nightly news and expect to reach women. Now wherever women are digitally, political ads are there too. Here's how Margolis describes what I might see if I was a democratic target voter in a Senate battleground state.

MARGOLIS: When you log on in the morning to check the weather, there's a pretty good chance that somebody is going to be talking to you right there. And depending on what kind of site you have been on before, there's probably a pretty good probability that we're going to know that you're a woman.

And we're going to know maybe some of the kinds of things that interest you - education, for example, or maybe reproductive rights. And even the kind of website that you're on is going to tell us a lot about who you are and the kind of things that you care about because we all are increasingly turning to the same kind of sites that others who have similar views go to.

LIASSON: So there are new ways of targeting women voters and new content tailored to women's concerns. But there's always an exception to the rule. Take the much imitated ad where a male politician attacks, literally, the IRS code or a piece of legislation passed by President Obama. This week, that macho format was adopted by Republican Joni Ernst, a pistol packing mama running for Senate in Iowa.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Joni Ernst will take aim at wasteful spending, and once she sets her sights on Obamacare, Joni is going to unload.

LIASSON: So even the shoot 'em up TV ad has achieved gender equality, for better or worse.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Mom, farm girl and a lieutenant colonel who carries more than just lipstick in her purse.

LIASSON: Mara Liasson, NPR news, Washington.

SIMON: If you missed any part of our series on women in politics this week, you can go to our website and you can listen to each piece individually or you can binge listen to the entire series. Just go to npr.org/shevotes. You're listening to NPR News.

Copyright © 2014 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: